On 18 July 2019 the History group had the very special pleasure of a visit to Ford Farm, Stawell. It was a super warm evening as we stood in the field across the road from the farm admiring the view over Stawell and the levels. We were welcomed by owners, Paul and Carolyne Warren. Paul started by pointing out the site of the Roman villa, the possible site of a Roman bath, an iron age fortification and the small chantry which had existed possibly up to the dissolution of the monasteries. He talked about the tarmacing of the original farm road with the problems of the steamrollers on the very steep hill.
We climbed up to a small copse where there was a ‘dipping’ well, an amazing feature with a grand tufa facade, stalagmites and stalactites and pure water even after the present period of dry weather. The well was just like the grottoes you find in many historic gardens. This is a farm, we were told, built on water and water was a major theme of the evening.
We then went through the farm to climb to the old mill pond with its water coming from Wookey Hole. The water was clear and deep and the cave at the rear went back to 150 metres under the A39 road. Candle stubs had been found in niches inside. Higher up we peered into the deep gulley where the notorious highwayman, Pocock, had been reputed to hide and whose horse had shoes nailed on back to front to confuse his pursuers.
There was tufa rock everywhere and we heard about its weight, strength and formation by carbonates coming from water. Ford Farm is reputed to be the only place in Southern England with large quantities of the rock. Some
was used to line the roof of the Chapter house at Wells. (Mentioned in the leaflet The Stones of Wells Cathedral. We turned to admire the decaying site of a water mill and a beautifully built lime kiln. Paul showed us where great cast iron pipes had run across the road to distant farm buildings describing how the joints were sealed with putty and lead cord and how a turbine had been linked to produce electricity there during the war. The Reynolds family who owned the farm in the eighteenth century had links to Ironbridge and Abraham Darby.
We continued with a walk round the immaculate gardens to the boating lake before examining some of the fascinating documents and pieces of pottery Paul and Carolyne possessed. A little bird modelled in lead took the eye for its detailed realism but what seemed most of interest were the 1841 tithe maps and lists of owners and occupiers of various properties. I checked out my house. At the time the site was owned by someone called Jeffreys and rented out to Charles and Thomas Darch at a rent of three shillings and sixpence!
We looked at the plans of the excavated Roman villa with a lively discussion of Roman architectural ideas – cool rooms for the livestock and west facing rooms for the evening sun. The vineyards on the nearby hills came up for discussion as we pored over aerial photographs of the farm.
We then went to look at the oldest building, a part medieval cottage with very rare decorated beam ends and considered how the farm buildings had changed and developed over the years. We noted the raising of roofs and some old windows with paper thin glass.
We did look at the old cider buildings. As we came to the end of the visit, we certainly realised how much the history of the farm was the history of change and how this was still going on as we talked about the recent development of some of the outlying buildings.
Industrial quantities of money must have been poured into the farm at times and at other times the farm had been very run down. We are hugely grateful that Paul and Carolyne welcomed us so warmly and were so willing to share the love of their property with us.
From an article by Jim Earnshaw for the Polden Post September 2019